Pet Talk: Implications of fireworks on your pets

December 22, 2010

From College of Veterinary Medicine, Texas A&M University

As the New Year approaches, so does time for celebrations and fireworks. Fireworks are a celebratory gesture, but many people don’t realize the implications they may have on animals.

According to Dr. Audrey Cook, clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), most pets are startled by fireworks and experience some degree of anxiety because of the unfamiliar loud noises and flashes of light they portray.

Aside from anxiety and fear, some pets can experience physical pains from firework encounters.

“A direct injury from a firework is unlikely, but could happen,” explains Cook. “In fact, the most common problems we see reflect the pet’s desperate efforts to escape from perceived danger. Cats may hide and run away and be injured in the process. Dogs may also hurt themselves trying to get away from the noise.

“Any injured pet should be examined by a veterinarian,” notes Cook. “Particularly worrying injuries would include anything on the face, mouth or eyes. Bleeding wounds or burns should be loosely covered by a clean napkin to reduce further damage or infection before medical help is provided.”

Cook recommends approaching an injured pet with care as it can sometimes bite because of fear and pain. The best thing to do is to move slowly and gently wrap the injured pet in a blanket to provide some reassurance and to reduce the risk of biting.

If your pet experiences anxiety from fireworks, the best strategy is to simply act normal, because if you change your behavior, your pet will notice. This will only reinforce its fears as your body language and behavior can tell your pet a lot.

“Easing their fears is difficult, and sometimes we actually increase anxiety when we try to reassure a frightened dog or cat,” said Cook. “Our reaction tells them that fear is appropriate and we can actually heighten their response if we make a big fuss.”

According to Cook, desensitization—meaning getting your pet used to fireworks—is not a very effective approach.

“It is very hard to desensitize a dog or cat to the noise of fireworks, as these are distinct and rarely encountered,” notes Cook. “It is probably more effective to protect your pet from the noise or train it to focus on you when any loud noises occur.

“The best strategies include trying to block out the noise with loud music on the television, or providing a distraction like a favorite toy,” notes Cook. “If you behave as though nothing is wrong and instead engage your pet in a game or training exercise, it may deduce that there is no cause for anxiety.”

In case of a severe phobia, your veterinarian may prescribe an anti-anxiety medication or sedative for your pet. However, it should only be used if there is no other way to calm your pet down during these times. It is also wise to give the medication about one hour before the fireworks are expected; waiting to give the pill when the animal is anxious may limit its effect.

The best way to avoid any anxiety from fireworks is to keep your pets inside or on a leash away and distracted from the sights and sounds of New Year’s Eve. Any place where they most feel safe is preferable for your pets.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at http://tamunews.tamu.edu. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

From the Dec. 22-28, 2010 issue

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